Puppeteer walks 1,000km in France dressed as giraffe

A MAN from Shiplake is walking 1,000km through France wearing a giant giraffe puppet.

Sebastian Mayer is recreating the journey made by Zarafa, a real giraffe, in 1827 after being gifted to Charles X of France by the Pasha of Egpyt. Zarafa is an Arabic name meaning lovely or charming one.

The puppeteer set off on April 15 and is scheduled to finish on June 24, stopping off in eight towns and cities en route.

Seb, who attended Gillotts School in Henley and performed with the Acorn Music Theatre Group as a boy, came up with the idea of the moving arts project two years ago.

His puppet is made from carbon fibre and is 3.5m tall (11ft 5in) and weighs 8.5kg (18lbs).

He made it with the help of his girlfriend and fellow puppeteer Daisy Beattie. It has eight replaceable cardboard skins, necks and heads.

Seb said: “I am beyond excited to be on this artistic journey. It is a perfect mixture of my passions and skills — creating giant puppets, hiking and speaking French.”

The idea came to him during the covid-19 lockdown when he discovered his new passion for hiking and walked 1,300km from Sussex to Inverness, where his father now lives.

Seb, a graduate of Central St Martins art school in London, says: “When the majority of work within my field dried up during the pandemic I started walking.

“I thought how could I combine my new passion for hiking and my long-term passion for making giant puppets.”

In each place he stops, including Marseille, Avignon, Valence, Lyon, Chalon-sur-Saône, Avallon and Montereau, he is holding community workshops where each of the skins will be drawn and painted on by locals to represent their region.

In Marseille, Zarafa was painted using earth from Provence and in Lyon next week he will be adorned with a mosaic of silk squares to symbolise the city’s silk trade and early Roman heritage.

Seb says: “My aim is to get people together, celebrate the joy of the unexpected and promote cultural exchange while collecting money for charities.

“There is a hyper-masculine association with carrying a weight a large distance, so adding a creative element sat right with me.

“The workshops are targeted at areas which have a lack of cultural stimulus, championing arts for all and providing a fantastical experience for those who may not normally be exposed.”

The project, called Ou est giraffe, is sponsored by the Arts Council England.

The art created during the journey will be used in a film and exhibited on his return to England. To follow his progress, visit www.ouestlagirafe.com

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